While still in his teens, Paul Wahlberg knew what he wanted to do in life: he wanted to be a chef. After a childhood diet of good but unexciting Dorchester food, he had an epiphany at a Vietnamese restaurant. A dish of crispy whole fish opened his mind and palate to the endless possibilities of cuisine. Now he has his dream job. Three years ago in Hingham, he opened Alma Nova, a fine dining venue. (The name references his mother Alma and her nine children.) A year ago, he opened the casual, family-friendly burger joint Wahlburgers literally across the street. Life is good.
On March 19th, Wahlburgers hosted an event for bloggers, “Wahlbloggers”, to showcase the restaurant. The evening was arranged by Mindy Valone, senior account executive at CM Communications. Our host was Chef Paul himself who spoke at length about himself, his credo as a chef and restauranteur. After establishing Alma Nova, he embarked on creating a casual restaurant which would appeal to diners of all ages. And what better way to do that than with a menu focused on burgers. Of course, since hospitality is foremost in his business plan, there are burger options for both pescatarians and vegetarians as well as salads, hot dogs, grilled cheese and chicken fingers for the burger-averse. He stressed his commitment to producing as much as he can in-house, such as sauces, salad dressings, pickles. What he does source out, he does mainly through local purveyors – meat comes from T.F.Kinnealey in Brockton, bread from Hearth Artisanal Breads of Plymouth, ice cream from Nona’s of Hingham. After Chef Paul’s introductory remarks, the moment of truth was at hand – time to chow down. I began with a Wahlbrewski, a proprietary unfiltered Pale Ale from Harpoon – a bit of malt, a bit of hops, just right. On to the salads.
Though all were delicious, I was partial to the BBQ Toss, while several of my fellow bloggers were quite vocal about the Seared Fall Chicken. Now, time for the main event – Burgers.
In all, we basically went through the entire burger menu; fortunately, we were offered scaled down versions of each item. All were well received particularly the Thanksgiving Burger (turkey patty, stuffing, orange cranberry sauce, roasted butternut squash), the Portobello Mushroom Cap Burger (portobello cap, caramelized onions, sauteed mushrooms, cheddar cheese, lettuce and tomato) and The Melt (burger between toasted thickly sliced bread, topped with government chesse, pickles, caramelized onions, bacon, mustard sauce). Government cheese? Much of the menu at Wahlburgers is a nod to the Wahlberg family story and government cheese is part of that. (If you don’t know what it is, google it.) In the end, even though there is a menu, Chef Paul ensures that diners get the burger their way: substitutions or special requests are no problem. And that belies Chef Paul’s philosophy – a focus on hospitality, not the chef’s ego.
It would be unfair not to mention the outstanding sides. Tater Tots, Sweet Potato Tots and Onion Rings are definitely worth ordering.
We finished the evening with Frappes and Mojo Cupcakes. The frappe menu is extensive – particularly appealing are the “adult” frappes which have an alcoholic component. And for those Coca Cola aficionados, Wahlburgers offer Mexican Coke.
As for expansion, Chef Paul said it was time to “go home”, i.e. Boston. He related how both he and Mayor Menino recently attended the same event. Hizzoner gave Chef Paul an earful about having set up shop in Hingham and NOT in Boston. (Hingham does get a bad rap sometimes.)
It was a great evening not just for burger-philes but for all who enjoy quality ingredients respectfully and skillfully prepared.
Many thanks to Mindy Valone, Rick Vanzura and especially Chef Paul.
Wahlburgers 19 Shipyard Drive Hingham MA